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Statue to John Mitchel 'should stay'

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Statue to John Mitchel 'should stay' thumbnail THE statue of John Mitchel which stands outside St Colman’s Park in the centre of Newry.

ANY removal of Newry's John Mitchel statue would come "dangerously close" to rewriting history.

Newry Maritime Association PRO James McArevey made the claim following the comments by former DUP MLA Nelson McCausland in his Belfast Telegraph column, published last week.

Mr McCausland was giving his view on the potential removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, and stated in his column: "If republicans are so eager to tear down statues of haters, why not start with racist John Mitchel?" Of course, in Newry, the name John Mitchel has been adopted by Newry John Mitchels GAC and the Irish National Foresters John Mitchel Branch, as well as Newry streets John Mitchel Place and John Mitchel Street.

Mitchel himself was reared in the city and in later life he became a leading member of both Young Ireland and the Irish Confederation before moving to the United States.

However, during the American Civil War Mitchel supported the Confederate Army and was pro-slavery, a fact that Mr McCausland highlighted in his column.

"Mitchel was not merely pro-South, he was pro-slavery and wrote that slavery was 'the best state of existence for the negro'," wrote the former North Belfast MLA.

Responding to Mr McCausland's column, Mr McArevey said that the former DUP representative was very "selective" in his comments and while Mitchel's slavery views were a "damning point" against him, it's better to keep the statue.

"John Mitchel had slaves yes, but that was part of the culture of the day," explained Mr McArevey.

"It's very easy for us to condemn today from a totally different perspective, but it goes without saying that slavery is totally wrong, abhorrent and it was banned by the UN back in 1948.

"Should the statue be taken down? I think that you come to a stage where you get dangerously close to rewriting history and full revisionism.

"Like it or lump it, this is part of Mitchel, a reprehensible part in his life, but having said that it's part of who he is and it's part of the overall package of John Mitchel.

"To deny it or pretend that it didn't happen you're tempting to cover things up and rewrite history. It's better to have the statue there." Mr McArevey also praised the INF Branch named after Mitchel and made it clear that any group named after the Irish Republican was purely on the basis of his political stance.

"I am not a member of the Foresters but I know a lot of people who are and there's nobody in the INF who would condone slavery but they adopted Mitchel's name for his Republican stance.

"I would rather see the statue remain and it would be a stimulus for full and open debate about Mitchel rather than take it down and store it somewhere or bury it alongside him.

"I don't think you would be serving any due purpose."

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